Holding court over a plate of salmon and an alarmingly neon smoothie in a sunny corner of East London’s plush Shoreditch House, Clash catches Foxes at the mid-point of a mad week.
Just back from a tour of Europe, she’s spent the morning shooting a video in the New Forest, bits of which are still attached to her torn-denim shorts and legs, giving her the air of a slightly feral, well-tanned and disarmingly cheery woodland creature.
Despite being described as ‘girl next door’ material, Foxes is something of a step above your typical, semi-detached stunner. If Foxes is your girl next door, you can probably predict a housing bubble. She’s ‘girl next door’ in the same way Zooey Deschanel is ‘girl next door’. Which is to say she has big eyes, bangs and a body that doesn’t come with a small, metal plaque that reads ‘Made in Harley Street’.
The reality is, with those beaming brown eyes, Photoshop perfect frame and faultless voice it’s almost too easy, on first impressions, to write Foxes off as the latest in a long line of similarly good-looking vocalists, hurled by the industry into the ‘take it or leave it’ coliseum of public opinion.
It’s indisputably medieval. Sink or swim. Float or drown. Back to bar-work, to which Foxes is no stranger having spent a purgatorial period working shifts and just “trying to survive in London” after dropping out of music school at 18, or hoisted high as the industry’s single-selling it girl. It’s all a bit depressing and, as if to add to the bad portent, the last ‘Fox’ to make it big in the charts, the Norwegian one-hit wonder, already seems like a particularly mortifying dream.
But Foxes, AKA Louisa Rose Allen, isn’t one to glide demurely into whatever pigeonhole the suits in marketing top have carved out for her. When Clash asks her about the liberally applied ‘girl next door’ tag she pulls a face and cackles.
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Foxes, 'Holding Onto Heaven'
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“Blah blah blah,” she grins. “I think maybe I’m a bit of a lad, actually. At the moment I’m living with three of my best friends, and they’re all guys. I’m not really a girly girl at all. I don’t take myself too seriously.” But at least it’s not cute: “I hate being called cute… a girl doesn’t want to be cute.”
Like peer, and friend, Sam Smith, Allen rose to notoriety as the disembodied vocal hook on a platinum-selling club track. That voice, which found itself amplified out of millions of speakers accompanying American producer Zedd’s Grammy-winning ‘Clarity’, is part Florence Welch, part Katy Perry, and far from cute.
Her vocal quirks, rather than getting ironed out in a post-mix blitz, have been allowed to rise to the surface on her debut album, the recently released ‘Glorious’. On tracks such as ‘White Coats’, she sounds more like Canadian witch-house creeps Purity Ring than a focus group’s wet dream, or the crown jewel in some Sony executive’s gold-plated pension.
The ability to switch between writing big-hitting pop singles like ‘Holding Onto Heaven’, complete with festival-ready choruses, and slightly more leftfield songs is something that she’s worked hard to hold on to.
“When ‘Clarity’ did very well, I remember thinking I could have leaned to more of a pop side,” she confesses, “but I knew that what I wanted to do was stick to what I loved, and not follow anything else but the music I loved making.”
That attitude has bled through from her early singles onto her album, with which she hopes to “reach a more mature audience” to complement the “very loyal and amazing” but “young” fan base that has propelled her to where she is today.
“I’d like people to buy the album,” she confides. “I don’t want to be a singles artist. I mean, actually buy the album, you know?” So, not purchase, although that, presumably, is also welcome, but to believe in it as more than a bulk-buy-bundle of smash hits. “There’s a lot of album tracks,” she goes on, “that I think aren’t necessarily singles, but are there for a reason.”
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I get quite a lot of people thinking I don’t write the music, which is mental…
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This “reason” is a contradiction that lies at the heart of Foxes’ character. Beneath her easy charm and generously applied laugh, there’s a slight conflict between the figure the industry, and some sections of the media, expect her to be, ‘the girl next door’, the people’s princess, the next cover-girl, and the all-too-real Louisa Rose Allen beneath the hype.
The most obvious example of this disconnect, for her, is an assumption, sometimes couched in careful sentences or lazy assumptions and sometimes implied in absence of any suggestion to the contrary, that the Foxes persona is fake in some way. “I get quite a lot of people thinking I don’t write the music, which is mental,” she sighs, “but I guess when you’re considered a sort of ‘pop’ act some people just immediately think, ‘Ah, you didn’t write it.’”
Even as Allen stepped onto The Staple Centre stage at the Grammys, madly grinning and slightly tipsy, having snuck out for a beer and burger with fellow Brits Disclosure earlier in the night, the second Allen, the personality forged in glossy features and media profiles, was springing into life.
Part of the appeal of a stage name, like Foxes, is that it can exist separately from the person beneath. Being slipped into as easily as a mask, or gown, or pink, feather-tailed Mark Fast dress. But for Foxes, whose childhood obsessions were with Patti Smith, Kate Bush and Björk, success isn’t worn as a mask, or measured in photo shoots, or weighed against gold-plated statuettes but, rather, exists as a by-product of what draws her to artists like those listed above: “That they’re not going to change for anyone, and that they’ve stayed so true to what they do.”
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Foxes, 'Let Go For Tonight'
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The disconnect between person and persona may exist but, for Foxes, it’s not a coping mechanism or cynical marketing strategy, but rather a side effect of success she’s doing all she can to reconcile.
The highlight of Foxes’ massive tour commitment this summer, in support of ‘Glorious’, is an appearance at Glastonbury. “I’m very, very excited,” she beams, sounding very, very excited. “I love festivals, I’m a festival fan, I’d go anyway.” The nice thing being she probably is, and would. Foxes seems like the kind of girl who isn’t fazed by a bit of rain, mud, or toilet paper that’s as elusive as gold and hoarded by anxious mid-teens or, you know, crapping in a drafty plastic box in a field. Even if this year her experience is likely to be a little more VIP than usual.
Foxes is, for now, existing in a world of constant activity, overflowing calendars and a strange sort of flux. The fire’s beneath her feet, the Grammy’s “in the post”, having only been engraved in the last week, her album, and supporting tour, are weeks away and Foxes, whose life post-Grammy has been “a bit mad really”, is in hunt of simpler pleasures.
“What time is it?” She wonders, consulting her phone. The pixelated display flashes up 5:10. She snaps a grin over the top of her untouched fuchsia smoothie. “That’s beer o’clock, isn’t it…”
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Words: Rob Knaggs
Photography: Dom Smith
Find Foxes online. ‘Glorious’ is out now.
This interview appears in issue 95 of Clash magazine, details. Listen to 'Glorious' in full below, via Deezer.